Viraj Madappa becomes the first Indian to play on the Saudi golf tour

Viraj Madappa created history last week by becoming the first Indian to play in LIV Golf series.

Published : Jun 15, 2022 09:45 IST

Viraj Madappa during the final round of the GS Caltex Maekyung Open Golf Championship in Seongnam on May 8.

Viraj Madappa during the final round of the GS Caltex Maekyung Open Golf Championship in Seongnam on May 8. | Photo Credit: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP

Viraj Madappa, the lanky, bespectacled 24-year-old professional golfer who trains in Bengaluru, created history last week by becoming the only Indian to play in an elite, star-studded field at the inaugural event of the upstart and controversy-ridden LIV Golf series (LIV’ isn’t an acronym, but the Roman numeral for 54).

The new golf series, which is billed as ‘Golf but louder’ and is backed and financed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund (it was initially referred to as the ‘Saudi Golf League’) has threatened to upend the global professional golf establishment by taking on the powerful mandarins of the Professional Golf Association Tour, the world’s premier pro golf tour. With some of the world’s best known golf pros, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio García, Ian Poulter, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell, Bryson DeChambeau, and Patrick Reed ‘defecting’ and signing up for the LIV Golf Tour ignoring the PGA’s warning of stiff repercussions, the upheaval and pandemonium caused have been momentous, matched, arguably, only by the splitting wide-open of the cricket world by the Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer in 1977.

The more notable golfers now contracted with LIV Golf have been wooed with not just nine-figure paychecks (Phil Mickelson is reportedly being paid $200 million in appearance fees and signing-on payouts), but with also some of the richest tournament purses in golf history. The prize money up for grabs at the LIV Golf’s opening event was $25 million, with the winner pocketing $4 million and the last-place finisher being richer by $120,000.

Viraj Madappa who finished joint 30th out of 48 players in the event that teed off at the Centurion Club just north of London and concluded on June 11, was richer by $154,000. Talking to Frontline, the pro golfer who’s currently ranked 497 in the world, said it was exciting to get the opportunity to play and compete in such an elite field like the one at LIV.

Madappa has not been contracted for the entire LIV Golf Tour and it was a pleasant surprise when it was announced that he had qualified for the tour’s first event. Explained Madappa, who qualified for the inaugural event on the back of a strong performance in the Asian Tour’s $2 million International Series event at Slaley Hall Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort in Northern England, the first ever Asian Tour event in the United Kingdom: “It was a surprise. When I was finishing my final round at Slaley I wasn’t aware I had a chance of qualifying. But I played really well coming down the stretch and I finished sixth.”

And what about the experience of competing in such a heady field in the LIV event? “Anytime you’re in a field with the world No 1 and major champions, it’s always going to be special. I was on the practice range hitting balls with Dustin Johnson in front of me and Ian Poulter behind me. Kevin Na was on my team so we were hitting balls together. It was a pretty cool experience just being able to compete against them, going head to head against some of them. I Only wish I had played a bit better,” said Madappa.

The young Indian golfer said that one of the biggest takeaways from playing in such an elite field was coming to realise that the difference between the elite players’ good week and his own good week “isn’t as different” as he had thought it was. Said Madappa: “I now know that on a good week when I play well I can be competitive [with the best in the world] and I can compete for the top spot. That was very nice and exciting to see.”

Madappa added he was disappointed he didn’t play as well as he could have since he was “coming in with some good form from rounds at tournaments at Newcastle and Korea”.

Said Madappa: “But it was a difficult golf course at Centurion and was a grind from the start. I am hoping for stronger performances in the future. I don’t want it to look like I’m just there to fill in a spot. I am there to compete against the best players and that’s the dream every kid growing up has—to compete in a field where you have the big names. After the event I was also able to meet my coach in London. I have some work to do before my next event.``

Was Madappa worried over possible repercussions for playing on a tour that is considered a breakaway tour? The PGA has already announced that it was suspending all 17 of its Tour members who have signed up for the LIV Golf tour.

Said Madappa: “Yes, there was a little bit of thought before I accepted to play in the LIV event, but then, such opportunities to compete against such a strong field doesn’t come too often. Also, I don’t have membership [tour cards]) of any of the bigger golf tours. I am hoping there won’t be any backlash.”

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